Catalan parliament to vote on Islamic veil ban

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Catalonia's regional parliament votes Wednesday on a motion to ban the use of the face-covering Islamic veil in public places, as a debate rages across Spain over the issue.

Two conservative deputies presented the motion under which Catalonia would "adopt the legal reforms necessary to ban the wearing of clothes that totally cover the face."

The ban would be in place "in public spaces as well as public buildings" throughout the northeastern region.

The motion said Catalan authorities "cannot remain on the sidelines of the European debate," citing moves in both France and Belgium to ban the full-face Islamic veil such as the burqa or the niqab.

But the human rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the Catalan deputies to reject the motion.

"Any wide-ranging ban will violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to wear a full-face veil as an expression of their identity or beliefs," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination in Europe.

"Women should be free to choose what and what not to wear. This is their right under international human rights law."

In recent weeks several municipalities in Catalonia, including the city of Barcelona, have announced bans on the use of face-covering Islamic veils in public or are considering doing so.

On Monday, Coin, a small town in the southern region of Andalucia became the first outside of Catalonia to ban the veil in public buildings.

Spain's upper house of parliament last week also approved a motion calling on Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government to ban the use of the Islamic veil in public.

Earlier this month Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said the government planned to restrict the use of the veils in public places under a proposed new law on religious freedom.

Immigration from Muslim countries has grown dramatically in Spain since the 1990s, with Catalonia in particular being home to a large community of Pakistani origin.

There are now about one million Muslims among Spain's population of 47 million.

Last month, lawmakers in Belgium approved a draft law to ban the wearing of the Muslim full-face veil in public places, including streets -- creating a controversial first for Europe, although it is still subject to a senate vote.

Debate is raging in France as well, where the cabinet has approved a draft law to ban the Muslim full-face veil from public spaces, opening the way for the text to go before parliament in July.

© 2010 AFP

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